The first volume of Tetsujin 28 was a pleasant surprise, and I found a lot to like with its mix of retro-styled mecha action and penchant for the dramatic. It’s fair to say I had high expectations for this second helping.
To my surprise, things start off in low gear. Tetsujin’s remote control is stolen by an American mafia group, who take it on a crime spree across Tokyo. Shotaro faces a dilemma as he grows unsure of Tetsujin’s nature as a weapon, and there are splashes of ethics and post-war politics here and there. The thing is, it’s just not as engaging as it could be as the story drags its feet a bit and seems to cover familiar ground. Despite the fact that this is clearly intended as a serious drama, the cheese is laid on so thick you can practically smell it, which makes it difficult to take it seriously – not helped by the numerous clichés and stereotypes. Between Tetsujin’s conveniently colour-coded eyes (yellow for good, red for evil), frequent flashbacks, and the way no-one ever gets too badly hurt, it feels as if it’s aimed squarely for the younger market.
Halfway through the volume though, things suddenly change. As Shotaro and crew investigate a series of bizarre murders, there is a surprising darkness to the proceedings, and the tone suddenly becomes noticeably more sinister. It suddenly becomes very good indeed. It helps that there’s more to the villain than the earlier cutout mafia goons; when he’s finally unmasked, his motives are quite understandable, and his character a more sympathetic one. The change in mood and pace gives it a much more mature feel, and the cheese comes in slices instead of blocks.
The presentation continues to impress, with the action sequences nicely animated and strong designs for the characters and machines that both reflect the originals and keep it up to date. Providing the dramatic cues is an orchestral score which, although very good, is becoming to sound a little familiar from overuse. My biggest bone of contention is with the dub; although some of the cast clearly enjoy their roles, others force their lines through with an unconvincing delivery not often seen outside McDonalds. Shotaro in particular often sounds terribly miscast, struggling with his lines and names, and generally just sounding like an irritating little brat.
Although it takes a bit of a stumble, Tetsujin 28 still manages to entertain, and is currently one of the best mecha series available. Hopefully the stride hit with the latter part of this volume will continue to be met for the remainder of the series – if it is, then it could be something special indeed.